The San Diego Seals were finally back at full strength in a dominant 17-10 divisional win against a strong defensive unit in the Colorado Mammoth Saturday night in Las Vegas.
The game saw the activation and return of second year forward Austin Staats to the Seals lineup- a player who can really swing the balance in games. In San Diego’s short history, they are 11-4 with Staats on the floor and 4-13 without. He contributed right away, posting a goal and 3 assists in his first game back. Staats return follows that of Casey Jackson, who made his way back onto the active roster two weeks ago and had himself an absolute day out there in Vegas, dropping 5 goals and 3 assists on a hapless Dillon Ward who is ordinarily a brick wall for the Mammoth in net.
It is clear that this Seals offense at full strength will be difficult to slow down. The 17 goals mark San Diego’s highest scoring performance of the season. Combined with their win over the Riptide, the Seals have put up 32 goals in a two week span.
“It was an awesome experience overall. It was nice to see our offense break out tonight,” said head coach and general manager Patrick Merrill. “The addition of Austin took the pressure off the rest of the guys, and it was nice to see some instant chemistry.”
On the defensive side, San Diego held Colorado to 10 points, with a handful of those coming late in a game that was already out of reach. The solid performance can largely be credited to goalie Nick Damude who made just his second NLL start in place of the banged up Frank Scigliano. Damude ran the table on Colorado’s three power play opportunities, denying shot after shot as the defense itself also stood in and soaked up a ton of would be shots on goal. He logged 32 saves on the night and was visibly fired up as time expired in the fourth quarter.
“I thought Nick was great, a very solid performance,” said Merrill. “Our defense was strong, blocking shots all night and paying a price.”
The Seals got off to a characteristically slow start, despite the first goal of the game coming on an outside bouncer from forward Zack Greer (3g,2a) a few minutes into the first quarter.
Colorado answered seconds later with a quick finish from Dylan Kinnear (2g) on the doorstep. The quarter saw two more Mammoth goals, including one on a hail mary pass from goalie Dillon Ward to Eli McLaughlin (3g,2a) and the Mammoth would take a 3-1 lead into the second.
San Diego came out guns blazing, scoring three consecutive goals in a four minute stretch to start the second quarter, giving them a 4-3 lead.
McLaughlin responded with a one time finish on the crease to tie the game back up, but Casey Jackson had ideas of his own as he handled and finished a beautiful Kyle Buchanan (1g,4a) assist on the very next possession. The Seals won the next faceoff and Jackson said hold my beer as he dove and dunked on Ward from behind the cage off of a feed from Jeremy Noble (1g,6a) to make the game 6-4 Seals.
“That’s just what Casey does,” said Merrill. “For him to find his game after being out for so long is a huge boost for our team.”
Colorado mounted a little surge of their own down the stretch in the second quarter to make it a one point Seals lead, 7-6.
With 30 seconds left in the first half, the Mammoth held the ball for the last shot and pulled Ward to get the man advantage. Damude turned away the first few attempts, but was unable to corral the ball on a rebound and a mad scramble ensued behind the cage as time seemingly expired. All of a sudden, captain Brodie Merrill emerged from the fray with possession and launched a 200 foot shot that bounced twice and stung top corner of the empty Colorado net with a tenth of a second left on the clock. Colorado would challenge, but the ball had indeed crossed the line before time expired and the goal stood.
The Seals took an 8-6 lead into halftime, and even though there was a whole half to play, that empty netter from Merrill would prove to be the dagger.
The third quarter was an onslaught. The Seals came out and scored four consecutive goals to double up the Mammoth 12-6, with Colorado only managing to get one of those back, heading into the fourth down 12-7.
The fourth quarter saw more of the same as San Diego’s offense managed to continue producing. Colorado was able to slip a few more by Damude but the game had already gotten out of hand. The final score settled at 17-10.
“It was a total team effort,” said Merrill. “Everyone was contributing and that’s why we put up the number that we did tonight.”
San Diego’s win drastically shakes up the Western Division as all five teams are within two games of first place. The waters are truly muddied now and it will surely be a fun race to watch.
The Seals get a week off before they head to Denver on February 15 for a rematch with the Mammoth at the Pepsi Center.